Chinchillas originate from South America and are rodents with soft, dense coats, large ears, big eyes and a long curled hairy tail. They increase in popularity every year across the UK and are usually available at most pet stores, or can be found in the Pets4Homes for sale section.
Caring for a pet chinchilla does not need to be a challenging task, it can be fun and rewarding. You will need a good cage set up, understanding what to feed as part of a balanced diet, and be aware of any health problems that may arise. Care must be taken with the diet and nutrition you supply a chinchilla, they have sensate stomachs and are used to having a high fibre diet in the wild.
The average lifespan of a chinchilla is between 12-20 years, if you supply your chinchilla with a well balanced diet, nice home, lots of attention and care, you will maximise its lifespan. However, unfortunately injury or illness can happen to chinchillas like any animals. If you suspect your chinchilla is injured or ill, always consult a professional veterinarian. Here are some of the conditions you need to be aware of:
Chinchillas only bite humans as a defensive mechanism when they feel threatened for some reason. They will however fight among themselves sometimes over territory, if one of them is in pain, or for other reasons. They do not often do serious damage when fighting, but if a bite opens up a wound it can become infected. If you see any bite marks on your chinchillas you should gently clean up the wound with antiseptic wipes, and if necessary separate them for a short period while it heals.
Chinchillas cannot regurgitate or vomit, so if food gets stuck in their wind pipe it can cause a lot of discomfort or even suffocation. Symptoms of choking include drooling, difficulty breathing, retching and refusing to eat.
If a chinchilla does not get enough roughage in their diet they can become constipated. Symptoms include straining when passing faeces, with faeces being hard, dry, and possibly passing blood at the same time. Increase the fibre and roughage in their diet and they should make a full recovery.
Just like any animal, chinchillas can become dehydrated if they are not drinking enough water, or as a result of another illness. If a chinchilla is exposed to conditions of excessive heat, has previously had diarrhoea, or for any other reason is not drinking enough, they will become dehydrated. Make sure they have access to fresh water at all times to avoid this becoming a problem.
Chinchillas shallow hair while grooming themselves, over time this can cause a problem in their stomach. If you notice your chinchilla has lost its appetite, looks lethargic and is visibly in pain, this might be the case. You will need to consult your veterinarian for a scan to determine if this is the problem.
Although chinchillas originate from a warm part of the world they do not handle the heat too well. This is largely because they have very dense coats of fur, when outside they can usually been seen basking in the shade away from direct sunlight. When temperatures become too high they can be susceptible to heatstroke, symptoms include drooling, lying stretched out, and fast-paced breathing or panting. If you suspect your chinchilla is suffering from heatstroke act quickly to cool it down.
A chinchillas’ teeth continue to grow throughout its life. Providing toys or items recommended for a chinchilla to chew on and keep its teeth trimmed is a must. If their teeth become overgrown it can cause a number of problems, the teeth can grow in to the soft tissue areas of the mouth. This will be extremely painful for the chinchilla and can lead to problems eating food.
Providing good nutrition to your chinchilla is very important to help maintain good health and longevity. Most health problems are a result of having a poor diet, this can be avoided by understand what the requirements are of chinchillas.
Firstly you should be aware that chinchillas are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. In the wild they are happy to eat fruits, berries, different grasses, seeds and various other similar foods. As a pet owner it’s important you act responsibly and do not give your chinchillas too many treats, keeping their diet similar to that in the wild is best for them.
A chinchillas diet should consist of around 30% fibre, it is very important that they eat a steady flow of fibre to ensure they digest and pass food safely and regularly. You can provide most of this from pellets and hay available at most pet stores or online.
A regular dust bath is a necessity for a chinchilla, they do this to maintain their soft, thick coats of fur. Not only do they do this to maintain their coats but they enjoy it too, if you have never seen a chinchilla rolling and flipping around in a dust bath it’s a sight to be seen! This is natural to their behaviour in the wild and you will need to facilitate it for them in their cage.
You can buy a dust bath or use a dish/container that will not easily tip over, they are not too fussy about where they bath, as long as there is plenty of dust. This is one of the unique joys of owning a chinchilla, but be prepared for dust to be kicked up everywhere and require cleaning up afterwards.
Twice a week is usually enough for a chinchilla to keep its fur in good condition. If you notice any change in its coat for the worse, or better, then you can adjust the amount of dust baths you offer accordingly. This is a very important part of overall chinchilla care, you must provide dust bathing or they skin and coats will suffer.